Taking care of aging relatives is a noble, selfless endeavor. And it’s not for everyone. It’s a major contributor to stress that can lead to caregiver burnout: a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Whether you are considering becoming a family caregiver or currently are one, there are some important factors to keep in mind.
Take a moment for some honest self-reflection. Ask yourself:
- How healthy am I?
- How well-equipped am I to take care of another human being?
- How much care is required?
- Am I comfortable performing all of the necessary care tasks?
Assess the basic physical requirements of caregiving. There may be lifting, repositioning, and transferring needed. If you have a bad shoulder, bad back, or bad knees, this could put both you and the care recipient at risk for injury.
Caregiving can involve tasks that may make you squeamish or uncomfortable. There may be bodily fluids to clean up, ostomy care, and personal hygiene tasks. Caregiving requires a combination of training, desire, willingness, and comfort to meet the needs of aging adults.
Once you’ve determined that you’re ready, willing, and able to provide senior care at home, it’s important to gauge your physical and mental wellness along the way. Catching stress early and preventing caregiver burnout is better than remedying it later.
Signs of Caregiver Burnout
The overarching theme of caregiver burnout is when the diminishment of the quality of your life has become greater than your ability to cope with it. Answering these questions will help you know if you’ve reached that point.
- How is your patience level?
- Are you short-tempered with your care recipient?
- Do you lose your temper, not just with your care recipient, but others as well?
- Are you having problems with falling or staying asleep?
- Are you tending to care needs during the overnight hours, such as changing the senior’s position every two hours to prevent bed sores?
- Are you eating properly?
- How is your appetite lately?
- Are you able to take care of grocery shopping and preparing meals?
- How are you handling the changes from what used to be your everyday life?
- Have those changes become significant enough to negatively impact your own life?
Recognize that burnout can be physical or mental. You may be physically exhausted from heavy lifting, or you may be mentally drained from the emotional onslaught of helping someone you love through a difficult stage in life.
The Key to Avoiding Burnout
The most important aspect of caregiving is knowing that you will need – and deserve – regular breaks from care. Think of the care staff in a hospital. They work in shifts. No one can devote 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to taking care of someone else.
Carve out daily blocks of time of at least four hours when you are completely off duty. The amount of time will vary depending on your particular circumstances and the intensity of care needs, but time off is essential to your health as well as that of the senior in your care.
Your perspective should be that just as your aging relative now needs help and support, you need and deserve it as well. The word “help” may be a 4-letter word, but it’s not one you need to avoid! You are not a failure because you need help. You haven’t let anyone down – not the senior or yourself – by seeking help.
It can be helpful to start small. Think of the menial tasks that you can free yourself from, such as changing bed linens. Remember: no one has ever gotten a merit badge for making a bed. Allowing someone to help with tasks such as these frees up your energy and time to devote to things that are meaningful and satisfying. You’re saving the best part of yourself for the senior in your care.
Help can come in many forms: other family members, neighbors, or Right at Home’s Sarasota home care services. Recognize when it’s time to ask for help and ensure you and the senior in your care have the opportunity for the highest possible quality of life. Contact us any time to see if our services are available in your area, and to obtain the support you need.